I have now read all five in the R J Ellory portfolio (his sixth is due next month) and not for the first time, I kissed this one as I closed the last page. This man, in my opinion, doesn't know how to write a bad or even mediocre novel. I have never given 5 stars to every book by the same author before, and that would include my personal favourites. I guess Ellory will inevitably slip up sooner or later, but until then I must say that all five of his novels published to date are absolutely top-notch pieces of writing and any one of them could be another reader's first preference. As for A QUIET VENDETTA, the third of the five published, I can only say buy it, borrow it or somehow get your hands on it because it is a captivating story that you just won't want to end.
Some feel that Ellory isn't a crime fiction writer, that his work cannot be pigeon-holed into any specific genre, and while I understand that argument, this story is probably the most criminal of them all. It takes a while before the reader can latch onto who the central character is; at first we assume it to be John Verlaine, a Homicide Detective in New Orleans - but it isn't. Then we figure it to be New York based Special Investigator Ray Hartmann - but again, it isn't. In fact it is more than one hundred pages into the story before we finally know who it's really all about: Ernesto Cabrera Perez, and the narrative switches from third-person to first person as the elderly Perez tells Hartmann his life story. And what a life it was.
Perez is a quite extraordinary man, a man of unquestioning loyalty and devotion to his family. But apart from his own family, at least the one he creates as opposed to his forebears, he is very deeply entrenched in a family of a very different kind. Despite his Cuban blood, Perez is a life-long 'troubleshooter' for the Italian Mafia in various cities across America. When there's trouble, he shoots - and he never misses. Yes, he is the absolutely reliable hit-man in a world of organised crime spanning five decades or more, and for once Ellory not only uses politically significant events in 20th-century American history as a time stamp, as a backdrop to the story; this time his key character is directly involved in it. Perez is responsible for one of the most notorious 'hits' in the chronicles of organised crime. Seeing as this particular murder was never solved in reality, there is an acceptable degree of credibility to this supposedly fictitious thread of the overall story. Despite this, it is actually only of minor relevance in itself, because the backbone of the tale is the kidnapping of the daughter of Louisiana Governor Charles Ducane, and Perez promises Hartmann to divulge her whereabouts once he has fully told his life story. Whether she is alive or dead, he cannot say. So begins a massive FBI-administered hunt for the abducted young girl, but she will not be found until Perez tells them where to look.
It would be easy to pick holes in the novel, and I have to confess that it was quite a while before I realised how special it is, so it does require a little patience to get fully into it. Once there, however, once I was really inside the mind and soul of Ernesto Perez, I never wanted it to end. True, it's the kind of story I favour best in being built around the world of the Mafia in their halcyon years, so I have to admit to being easily persuaded but then again it needs to have been written well and that it most certainly has been. But it is special, even among other Ellory novels, and without doubt it is one of the most engrossing books I have read in recent years. I am sorry to have finished it - you can't beat the first time, can you? - but it's one of the very few books in my personal library that I know I will read again. It isn't about the destination, fascinating though that would prove to be, no - it is about the journey, the ruthlessly riveting world that was the life of Ernesto Perez.